The eighth installment in URC Psalmody’s Introduction to the URC/OPC Psalm Proposal
Forever will the Lord reject
And never show His grace?
Has He withdrawn His steadfast love
And turned from me His face?
While lines like “O God, most holy are Your ways” may call to mind the blue Psalter Hymnal’s settings of Psalm 77 (#145-147), the version of this psalm that appears in the URC/OPC Psalm Proposal is much more recent, originating in the 2003 Scottish psalter Sing Psalms. The deep pain and earnest questioning of Psalm 77 are reinforced by the plaintive tune RESIGNATION, a traditional American folk melody harmonized here by Dale Grotenhuis. Although it does not appear in either the blue Psalter Hymnal or the revised Trinity Hymnal, the tune may be somewhat familiar in connection with Isaac Watts’s paraphrase of Psalm 23, “My Shepherd Will Supply My Need.”
As you sing Psalm 77, notice how the inflection of the text coincides with the rise and fall of the musical line. Special attention should be given to the climax of the psalm in the middle of the third stanza: “Forever has his promise failed? Is God no longer kind?” In contrast, note the quiet assurance that accompanies the affirmations of God’s loving acts in stanzas 6 and 7, and share in the psalmist’s journey from crisis to comfort.
- 8/2: stanzas 1-3
- 8/9: stanzas 3-5
- 8/16: stanzas 5,6
- 8/23: stanzas 6,7
- 8/30: all
Source: Psalm 77 in Sing Psalms
Themes for Studying Psalm 77
- Remembering and moaning (vv. 1-3)
- Remembering and doubting (vv. 4-9)
- Remembering and searching (vv. 10-12)
- Remembering and resting (vv. 13-20)
Seeing Christ in Psalm 77
Especially in the 400 “silent years” between the last Old Testament prophecies and the birth of Jesus, the Jews could well wonder whether God’s promises to Israel were “at an end for all time” (v. 8). With rampant idolatry and harsh persecution pressing in, believers would have seen a stark contrast between his “wonders of old” for them (v. 11) and his current silence. Jesus’ birth was the first “good news” (Luke 2:10) to God’s people after this time of dispersion and affliction. And what good news it was: the same Christ who led his people like a flock in the hands of Moses and Aaron (v. 20) would himself come as the Good Shepherd, from whose hand no sheep can be snatched (John 10).
Applying Psalm 77
- Why did the psalmist moan when he remembered God (v. 3)?
- Have you ever doubted whether God’s promises still apply to you (v. 8)?
- Where does the psalmist turn for comfort (vv. 10,11)? How can you obtain the same comfort?
- How do the terrifying events of vv. 16-19 reveal God’s steadfast love?
- Why does Psalm 77 end so suddenly (v. 20)? How does this closing statement summarize the psalmist’s comfort?
The psalmist continued to set God before his view, wisely supporting his faith by the reflection that God, who never changes his love or his nature, can do nothing but in due time show mercy to his servants. Let us also learn to open our eyes to behold the works of God. They may seem insignificant by reason of the dimness of our eyes and the inadequacy of our perception, but if we examine them attentively, they will ravish us with admiration.
—paraphrased from Calvin’s commentary on Psalm 77:12
West Sayville URC
Long Island, New York
(A PDF version of this post, formatted as a bulletin insert, is available here.)